my friends (to quote john mccain), thanksgivingtide is upon us. to get you in the holiday spirit, I thought I’d bring back an old, old thanksgiving tale. its origins remain unknown, but for generations, grandparents have gathered their wee grandchildren around their rocking chairs to tell this tale of the noble hand turkey.
ok, I just made that up right there. I wrote this last year and some of you may have read it before. but I assure you, it was heavily researched and is completely factual.
The History of the Hand Turkey
as penned by me, Thanksgiving 2007
the glorious hand turkey
The first hand turkey recorded can be found among the cave paintings at Lascaux, dated from 13,000 BCE. The stunningly accurate portrayal of the hand turkey is not a hoax, but rather has been verified by the presence of hand turkey fossils in the surrounding French countryside. Carbon dating suggests that they are from 13,000 BCE.
ancient hand turkey depiction, Lascaux Caves
In 72 CE, gladiators battle to the death with giant hand turkeys in the Amphitheatrum Flavium. These battles were celebrated in Roman poetry and song.
In 1000 CE, a hoarde of Vikings land in Newfoundland. They lived in this new land for some months, bringing with them native European livestock, including boars, cattle, and hand turkeys. when the Vikings gave up on this hostile, barren place, they left the hand tukeys behind. From here, they spread throughout the eastern territories of North America.
In 1621, as a gesture of goodwill towards their new neighbors, the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts hold a dinner with the native Wampanoag people. This grand feast of jellied cranberry sauce, candy corn, and hand turkey would later become the first modern day Thanksgiving celebration.
the first thanksgiving!
By 1700, the hand turkey population is in swift decline.
In 1776, Ben Franklin writes a letter to one of his many bastard children about the choice of the eagle as the great U.S. symbol, stating: “I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Hand Turkey. For the truth the Hand Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America (sic) . . ..”
1849: The Gold Rush begins and westward migration booms. Prospectors traveling across the land pack their wagons with hand turkeys for sustenance. Hand turkeys were also valuable in trade, often exchanged for wagon tongues and various beads. Lacking the capability to swim, this is the first time hand turkeys cross the Mississippi River.
They swiftly populate the American West, roaming the prairie with bison and coyotes.
In 1899, hand turkey populations hit an all-time low. The bird’s colorful plumage became a popular feature of ladies’ fashion; the hand turkey was killed for its feathers. People regularly consumed 8-course meals, and the hand turkey was frequent dish. It is said that President William McKinley consumed as many as 12 hand turkeys a day. This boom in popularity spelled trouble for the most noble of species.
mckinley's lust for the hand turkey was well-known
In 1917, the hand turkey becomes the mascot for Breathe-Rite Corset Co., Inc. Though this move won the hand turkey temporary fame, the company went out of business in 1920 when a group of maniacal flappers set the corset factory on fire.
1928: With hand turkey populations at a perilous low, Herbert Hoover promises a “hand turkey in every pot” to the U.S. citizens during his first run for office. This statement all but dug the grave for this king of all fowl. By 1935, the hand turkey was extinct.
In 1936, poet T.S. Eliot wrote an ode to the handsome bird:
Hand turkey, hand turkey,
Why oh why,
Why oh why did you have to die.
-from The Love Song of the Hand Turkey
Like the dodo bird, the mastadon, and the Caspian tiger, the hand turkey remains only in our imaginations, kindergarten classrooms, and the memories of a few old folks who still remember the days when hand turkeys roamed free across the American landscape.